If we just listen, we can learn a lot. The Bible repeatedly gives us instruction to listen to God’s Word. In the seven letters Jesus wrote to the seven churches, a repeated line at the end of each of them is “he that has an hear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2-3). It is one thing to listen, but how can we be effective listeners? This brings me to the passage we will be looking at in Luke 8:16-21. This passage comes after Jesus’ parable of the sower and is an application of that parable. It shows us the importance of listening to His Word and living it. In this message we will consider what it means to be a true hearer of God’s Word. It will involve two actions: careful listening (8:16-18) and committed listening (8:19-21).
1. CAREFUL LISTENING (8:16-18)
Many say that they have heard the message of God’s Word. But it is not enough for us to claim that we have just heard it. In the previous parable there were four types of people that heard the Word, but only one was fruitful. Hearing by itself is not enough. Many people will have a basic or even broad understanding of what the Bible says, but mere hearing and knowing does not mean that you are saved from your sins, and that you are going down a pathway that pleases the Lord. Now it is good to hear and know what the Bible says, but if we are going to be fruitful in our Christian life we need to go deeper. We need to give ourselves to the practice of carefully listening to God’s Word. This is to go beyond a surface survey. It is to know what God has said and understand what that means for our lives. When this takes place, the light of God’s Word shines into our life, and lights our path and exposes our sin, which is the purpose of hearing God’s Word.
This is the point of what Jesus says at the beginning of this passage, “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light” (8:16). The purpose of lighting up a lamp is to provide light. It would be silly and pointless to light up a lamp and then cover it up. The lamp is lit up so that the light shines. The light coming from the lamp that Jesus is referring to is the Word of God. This Word is given to us so that it will shine light into our lives and we are then to reflect that light to those in darkness.
When you approach God’s Word, are you being guided by it? Or are you hiding the light and walking around in darkness? The light of God’s Word is not to be something we simply notice and admire, or cover and forget. We are to benefit from it by seeing what it is showing us. Jesus went on to say, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (8:17). The light of God’s Word will make known to us things that we are not comfortable with. Imagine you are in a dark room with very little lighting. There is food to eat and the opportunity to socialise. Without realising, you have managed to cover most of your face with the dipping sauce from the food table. But because of the darkness, no one, including you noticed. But at the end of the night when the lights are one and you look in the mirror, it is a different story. In the dark, our lives may look OK and we can get away with a lot. But when the blazing brightness of God’s Word shines, nothing is hidden. Our sin is exposed.
Since this is what God’s Word does to our lives, it is our responsibility to listen carefully to it. Jesus said, “Take care then how you hear” (8:18a). He then goes on to talk about the consequences for those who carefully listen to God’s Word and for those who think they have but really haven’t. He said, “for to the one who has, more will be given and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away” (8:18b). If we carefully listen we will be given more light. Though this is confronting, it is also comforting because it brings us in closer fellowship with the Lord.
The first thing we learn in this passage is that we should listen to God’s Word carefully. When we do this, it will shine light into our life, confronting us and comforting us in the way we should go. But how do we know we have listened to it carefully? This is answered in my final point.
2. COMMITTED LISTENING (8:19-21)
Those who carefully hear the Word of God are to respond to it in obedience. This is called committed listening. What happens in this next section is a very interesting. As Jesus was teaching, His mother Mary and His brothers came to see Him, but because the crowd was too large, they were unable to reach Him (8:19). So someone approached Jesus and told Him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you” (8:20). Jesus uses this occasion in which blood relatives were unable to be close to Him because of the crowd to illustrate a powerful point. Jesus replied by giving a profound lesson on what it means to be close to Him. He said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (8:21). Those who receive God’s Word and respond to it are in the family of God. Jesus is not rejecting His physical family, but He is making the point that there is a kind of relationship that surpasses the physical, and that is the spiritual.
The kind of person Jesus is describing here are those likened to the good soil that received the seed, and then produced much fruit (cf. 8:15). It is the believer who sees their sin as a result of the light of God’s Word, and then walks in that light. We can’t live God’s Word if we don’t first know God’s Word. But we need to remember, that when we do know it, we are to go on and live it.
A true disciple of Jesus is a person that carefully listens to what God says, and then takes that knowledge and seeks to apply it to their life.
We have learnt that the Word of God is a light. This light exposes our sin and enlightens us to know the way of God honouring obedience. For this reason we are to listen to that Word carefully and then commit ourselves to walking in way the light shines. But it is not always easy for us to listen with such care and commitment. Sometimes we will lack interest, or we will get distracted. Before we know it, we are neglecting God’s Word and are walking around in the dark. So what can we do to give ourselves to the kind of listening Jesus is talking about here? Here are three parting points summarised by three keys words intended to help you become a better listener of God’s Word. The key words are: read, receive, and respond.
Read. We need to know what the Word of God is. It is revelation from God and it is true and trustworthy. Because this is what the Word of God is, we ought take time to read it. There is more than one way in which we can do this and there are numerous Bible reading plans that are really helpful. But the most important thing to do is to read it! Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to be an effective reader. Read a passage with reverence, repetition, and reflection. Read it reverently because you are reading the very words of God to you! Read it with repetition because we often miss things when we read quickly. Read with reflection so that we can hear what God has to say to us, treasure it, and apply it.
Receive. We are to approach God’s Word with the desire to learn from the Lord and hear what He has to say. This takes genuine humility. We will miss what it says if we are full of our selves. The humble person recognises that they have something to learn, and that God’s Word has the answers. James wrote, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The acts of confessing and forsaking sin and approaching the Bible with humility will help us become better listeners of God’s Word.
Respond. The Bible is not an opinion column. Something we can take or leave. The Bible is the authoritative Word of God. We ought to read with the view of obeying it. James goes on to write, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). He then goes on to describe two different people who look in a mirror. This mirror represents God’s Word. The first person looks at the mirror, sees his reflection, thinks about it, and then forgets what he saw. He doesn’t respond to the reflection. The second person looks and looks again, is impacted by what he sees and then makes the necessary changes. Both of these people hear God’s Word, but only one does something about it. We become better listeners of God’s Word when we read it with the view of responding to it.